August 17, 2015 by Lyn
When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead
And the white knight is talking backwards…
“You want to give me answers?” Kailani craved nothing more in the world, but she’d begun to distrust offers of help, even from her friends. “Okay.” She tried to make it come out politely.
“Let’s go back to our suite, if you don’t mind,” Mabina said, gesturing down the hall. “Especially on Hell Night, the halls really aren’t the place for this kind of conversation.”
“Okay,” Kai repeated. She stepped out of Conrad’s grasp, lifting his hand off of her like opening a gate, but her mind was already elsewhere, puzzling over things.
Earlier in the day, they’d seemed intent on hushing any dissent or questions in the hallway, but been more than willing to have things blow up in the Dining Hall. Conrad hadn’t wanted to talk about things in the Store: Could we finish this later, in your room?
“I understand the room-” she trailed off, realizing that asking about this while still in the hallway might be a little silly, and instead made a small frustrated noise. Your home is inviolate. No-one will ever enter it without your permission. She wondered how far “enter” stretched, here, and “inviolate,” in a place where there was admitted mind control. And how did they do that?
Not enough data. She sighed loudly, and then nearly jumped as Conrad set his hand on her shoulder.
“Sorry,” he murmured. “We’re nearly there.” He didn’t take his hand off her shoulder, though; instead, he shifted a little closer to her. For the first time in her life, it occurred to her to wonder if a boy was trying to make another boy jealous.
“Are you…?” she trailed off. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to ask him that in front of Taro.
“I…” he shrugged. “I don’t know,” he admitted. She wondered what it was he didn’t know.
“Here we are.” Cassidy opened the door. “Come in, Kailani, and be welcome. Our home is yours.”
“Hey,” Taro complained, but he stepped back, clearing the path to the door. Vlad and ‘Lisha were standing back, and Cassidy and Mabina were flanking the door, making it seem like they were waiting for her, like there was some sort of protocol.
She glanced at Conrad for help. He was back to the slightly-sad expression that made her wince. “What’s mine is yours now, pretty lady. Come on into our home.” His hand on her shoulder was gently urging her forward, so she walked through the door, feeling immensely weird.
Mabina smiled reassuringly at her as she entered, though, so it had to be okay. She smiled back, a little shaky, and looked around the suite.
Sectional couch, sage green, dark brown leather ottoman, big enough to be a small bed. TV, stupidly large, and surrounded on three sides by technological gadgets – VCR, gaming consoles – she counted three – stereo system, speakers. It was almost a home theatre. A door on the back wall, half-open, lead to what looked like a blank wall; a fully open door on the left-hand wall led to another fully-open door, which opened into a chaotic pile of clothes.
Conrad, following her gaze, blushed. “I guess you get my mess, too,” he whispered.
“That’s yours? ” She hoped she didn’t sound as horrified as she felt. “How do you live in that?”
“I, uh,” he shrugged. “I guess I could clean it up.”
“Careful,” ‘Lisha said smugly. “Next thing you know, you’ll be carrying her purse.”
Kai twisted to glare at the girl, wondering what she’d done to deserve the girl’s disdain. She wanted to say something in Conrad’s defense, but she caught sight of Vlad, who, looking at Conrad, bore the most hangdog expression she’d ever seen.
“And thank you, Alisha,” Cassidy said sarcastically. “Have a seat, Kai. It’s time for some explaining.”
Feeling horribly on-the-spot, she sat down in the middle of the sectional. Conrad curled up, catlike, to her left, his hip pressed against hers, and Vlad and Alisha settled down to his left. Mabina lowered herself carefully onto the couch to Kai’s right, and Cassidy sat down cross-legged on the ottoman, facing her. It all seemed to happen with the same careful planning as a chess game, and yet happened so casually that it seemed spontaneous. Only Taro resisted; he stood scowling, leaning against the wall.
“I understand the rooms,” Kai said, the words spilling out of her in a hurry, before Mabina or Cassidy could change the subject, “at least, in theory. Rooms are your home, are inviolate, right? But I don’t get the Dining Hall.”
Mabina nodded slowly, ignoring the small snorting noise from Taro. “Your home is your castle, yes. No-one will enter it without your permission, and, as far as we can figure out, there is no surveillance in the rooms and very little mind control.” She winced as she said “mind control,” and Kai wondered how accurate her assessment could be, if it caused her pain to talk about it in her own living room. “The Dining Hall has none of those protections, but, traditionally, it’s been neutral ground.” Another wince. “Traditionally, of course. I’m not sure everyone has gotten the memo this year. Of course, Ofir should have known better, but still…”
Ofir. She had to be talking about the bat-winged golden boy who had gotten beat up early the week before. Should have known better than to what? Not learn to dodge? But she was allowing herself to get sidetracked yet again. “So, our rooms are safe from intrusion, either from other students or from cameras, surveillance, or ‘mind control.’” She couldn’t help the quotes that seemed to drop around the words in her voice; it seemed so absurd, even now. “While the Dining Hall is just safe from other students – in theory?”
“Yep,” Cassidy agreed.
“But-” She paused, gathering up her thoughts. “So, there are things you don’t want to talk about in the halls, or in the Dining Hall, because you don’t want to ‘bring the Administration down on our head.’ Things related to the ‘mind control’ or the geasa or getting around them. I can understand the concept behind that. Does that explain why you didn’t want me to take Regine as my Mentor?”
Cassidy nodded, and then shook his head. “Not entirely. But in small part, yes. Having Regine as your Mentor is rather antithetical to actually getting answers.”
“Okay,” she frowned, filing that away for later. After all, Regine had offered her access to her research, which seemed like a pretty good way to get answers. Maybe all this distrust of the Administration was just student paranoia?
She still hadn’t asked her question. “I don’t understand,” she persisted, “what the concern is with other students. Why you don’t want to fight or ask questions in the halls that are fine to talk about in the Dining Hall. Why ‘neutral ground,’ however neutral it isn’t, is important.”
Taro snorted. “Rozen nearly strangled you this morning, and you need to ask that? Acacia was ready to break your ribs your first day here, and you need to ask that?”
“I thought the point of being Owned, or having a crew, or, I guess, both, was to avoid bullies,” she retorted, trying not to get too flustered. How did he always manage to make her sound like an idiot? No-one else could make her doubt her own competence so well.
“Yeah,” Vlad said gently from the sidelines, “but sometimes that can just cause more problems. You step in to stop a bully, and the next thing you know, two of his friends have stepped in to back him up. And then you’ve got two of your friends in on the mess, and everybody’s feathers are ruffled and the guy you were shooting pool with yesterday is trying to kill you between classes.”
“And the administration just lets it happen?” She couldn’t believe that, but everyone was nodding.
“Theoretically, the cameras are there to keep the violence from getting out of hand,” Cassidy answered dryly, “but as long as no-one’s raped, murdered, or maimed, they pretty much let it happen.”
“Keeping in mind, of course,” Taro added helpfully, “that you can’t rape your Kept, since you can simply order them to consent.”
It seemed an odd thing for him to say, considering he’d been trying to Own – Keep – her not that much earlier in the day, and he seemed to realize that as everyone looked at him, especially Vlad and ‘Lisha. He flushed angrily, trying to turn it around, “Or, I suppose, that means it’s always rape. Since they can’t consent legally.”
“Can someone please revoke his speaking rights?” Alisha asked, frowning sulkily, and Kai really couldn’t help but agree with her. Taro was being, if possible, stupider than normal.
“I’m sorry, honey,” Mabina said gently, “it’s his Home too.” She turned to Taro, though. “Nobody is getting raped,” she told him, and he seemed to take that as a cue to shut up.
“Can’t consent?” Kai asked in a small voice. She gulped, looking at Mabina because that meant she could have her back turned to Conrad.
Mabina nodded. “That was what we wanted to talk to you about,” she answered. “Alisha and Taro are here because, of our crew, they are the only ones who have been Owned. Cassidy and I have our own arrangement, and Vlad and Conrad, well, Vlad has managed to avoid being Owned.” Her voice dipped into a disapproving tone. “If you two are going to persist in this silliness, you both need to understand what you’re getting into.”
“Okay…” It didn’t seem silly to her. Insane, outrageous, and absurd, but not silly. But Mabina had perfected the “mom” tone of voice that Kai had learned not to argue with, and, besides, she was offering answers.
“The first thing you need to really, really understand is that words have power.” Her voice slipped from “mom” into “teacher” and Kai, without thought, slipped her notebook from her purse and began taking notes.